Lately my McCaslan 42 pole beans have been producing a lot. A whole lot. The Bumblebees have been doing a great job of pollinating. I have had to harvest the beans about every other day, because if I don’t the bean pods get huge and ugly and lumpy and bumpy and stringy and mealy and…….. well, you get the picture!
Warning: green bean leaves can make your arms itchy and rashy because of the serration on the leaves! I found this out the hard way. During my first harvest, as I was plunging my arms into the foliage over and over again to harvest the beans, my arms started to get a bit itchy. By the time I had filled a large bowl full, it felt like I had a thousand needles pricking my arms, and as I looked at the tender insides of my forearms, I could see a serious red rash appearing right before my eyes! Some Benadryl and calamine lotion helped, but it took the better part of an hour to get the intense itching to stop! Who knew? I certainly didn’t. So, now I just harvest with a long sleeve shirt on. Problem solved.
Once I had my beans harvested, I had to figure out what to do with them: freeze or can. I do have a pressure cooker, but I don’t think it is made to be a pressure canner because it does not have a gauge on it – only a weight for 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure. So, that means I will need to go out and buy a pressure canner. In the meantime, I decided to flash freeze the beans. Why don’t I just use my Sucky Machine (aka Food Saver) and freeze the beans in those convenient freezer bags? Simply because I want to be able to pour out as many beans as I want, instead of having to estimate the amount of beans to pack in each bag for future meals. By flash freezing the beans, each bean is frozen individually. Once frozen they can be packed into one freezer safe storage bag (I double bag mine) and in the future I can pour out as much or little as I want! Convenient!
There are probably as many methods out there to freeze vegetables as there are paint colors at Lowe’s or Home Depot, but I thought I would share with you how I do it!
Pick your beans in the morning. Not only is it more pleasant for you, as some summer days can have brutal heat, but the beans will actually have a bit more turgor (kind of like water pressure within the plant), making them stay plump for a longer time without going limp. This is when I put my air insulated cookie sheets into the freezer to “pre-chill” them. Rinse the beans with cool water to get off any dust, old blossoms or insects.
Next you can either snap them (which helps to get any strings out, if they have developed) or cut them into pieces. While I am cutting the beans, I also sort them by thickness – thin ones into one bowl and thick ones into another. If you want to look professional you can certainly attempt to cut them all in about the same length pieces, but instead I tend to cut them between the bumps (seeds), so the seeds stay in the bean during the processing. I know it’s not as pretty, but I’m kind of weird that way. 😉 Once all of the beans are cut it’s time to blanch them. Why do we blanch the beans? Because there are enzymes within every vegetable working to break them down, reducing the amount of vitamin C, turning starch to sugar, etc., and while freezing slows down this process, heat stops it. So, if you want to have the flavor of “just picked” green beans in the winter, you must blanch. Bring a large pot of water (about one gallon of water to one pound of beans) to boil. You can salt the water if you prefer, but it isn’t necessary. Once the water is boiling at a good pace, drop in you beans and start timing. This is where size of bean matters and why I separate the skinny ones from the fat ones – blanch the fat ones for about four minutes and the skinny ones for about three. As soon as the beans have been blanched their allotted time, plunge them into ice water. It is absolutely imperative that the water be cold! Very cold! You have to stop those beans from cooking ASAP or they will over-cook and get mushy and lose a lot of nutrients. They also need to be cold before you put them in the freezer, so that they freeze faster, which is our next step. Drain the beans into a colander and then pour the beans into a bowl that has been lined with a very absorbent dish cloth or paper towels and shake for a second or two to get a lot of the water off the beans. This is when I get those previously frozen air-insulated cookie sheets out of the freezer, place a sheet of parchment paper on top, then quickly spread out the beans on the parchment. As fast as you can, get them into the freezer! Once the beans are in the freezer, mine are pretty much frozen within 15 to 20 minutes or so. I guess the length of time it takes to freeze your beans will depend on how cold they were to begin with, how many you have, and how cold your freezer is. Once you do this a couple of times you will know how long it takes to freeze them. Since I do this every other day or so in fairly small batches (about a pound or two at a time), then mine freeze pretty fast. Once you get the hang of it, this whole process doesn’t take long to do and is a great way to preserve all of that fresh green bean goodness for the winter. When the beans are completely frozen (they snap apart when you bend them), all you have to do is pour them into a gallon sized freezer safe bag! It is so convenient to be able to pour out the amount you want and not have them all stuck and clumped together! Just make sure you put the bag right back into a fairly cold part of your freezer, preferably not on the door, because if they begin to thaw and then refreeze, the beans will form a big, nasty, cement hard clump! Regrettably, I’ve seen the clump before, and it’s not pretty. 😉
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